IT WAS DIFFICULT for anyone to have expected of the Shah-Modi combine to sit back and blink when a major political drama was being played out by the friend-turned-foe Shiv Sena and others in Maharashtra. As events unfolded on Saturday morning — and in a culmination of the Machiavellian moves — here now was the game of all games. Clearly, the silence of the BJP leadership for the past one month of the high-stakes Maha Drama was not the silence of the grave. Rather, it was pregnant with meaning — even as this silence was deafening and insufferable.
There, for sure, is no going back for the BJP now – after it has put back Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister for a second term. Winning the required number is no more a hard task. With power in the BJP’s hands again, any number of Shiv Sena and NCP legislators will be willing to cross floor and play ball with it in a legally permissible, cohesive and collective manner. The wind, after all, was taken out of the sails of the Shiv Sena – and Sharad Pawar too, while the Congress was a poor fourth in the line.
It needs no emphasis that those in both the NCP and the Shiv Sena are, by now, a totally demoralized lot. Uddhav Thackeray has “robbed defeat from the jaws of victory” – a la the assembly results. An option open to Sharad Pawar now is to side with the new government, but does it help him in any way? Even that might not save him from the gathering storm shaking his huge empire of wealth acquired through questionable means over the past three decades. It could even crumble like a pack of cards. Over the years, he built himself as the Raja of the entire region; a huge empire simply was the result. There may be hyperbole in the oft-repeated statement that half of Pune belonged to him – in a process of acquirement in the past few decades.
The Maharashtra cooperative bank scam itself could send Pawar to Tihar Jail, sooner than later, giving him an opportunity to be with the likes of P Chidambaram. Pawar’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi two days ago might or might not have been an attempt to find an escape route to him from the present troubles; and by way of a bonus, he would also have expected a word from the PM for an innings in Rashtrapati Bhavan as a successor to Ram Nath Kovind. This is in the realm of speculation, after all. We do not know for sure.
Chances however are that another big fish in the central net, Pawar’s right-hand man and former Union minister Praful Patel – who is also facing central government probes into shady real estate deals involving those linked to underworld don Dawood Ibrahim — might now ditch Sharad Pawar and side with Ajit and the BJP. He is fashioned in ways as to go any length to promote his interests.
What of the Shiv Sena and Uddhav Thackeray?
From the very start of his leadership of the Sena, after the demise of his father Bal Thackeray who handed over leadership of the Mumbai-based enterprise on a platter to Uddhav Thackeray – he has been uninspiring. He nevertheless managed to outwit his cousin, Raj Thackeray, who went on to form the Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena. Here now is Uddhav’s hour of reckoning, again. Chances are most of the Sena’s rank and file would desert him and he would go down in the dumps along with his over-ambitious son Aaditya Thackeray, who too, like his father, had set his eyes on the CM gaddi.
With the BJP’s growth in Maharashtra, in tandem with its growth in the northern and western states, the Shiv Sena’s fortunes have dwindled in Maharashtra. It still holds sway over the BMMC, where civic elections are due by 2021. In the new context, defections can unsettle the Sena rule there any time now. From being the big brother in state politics, the virtual climb-down of the Sena as a side-kick to the BJP was a story of steady decline. Uddhav tried to turn the table on BJP, the Sena’s long-time ally, if only to fulfill his greed to become the CM. But problem was that he failed to show a matching enterprise in the matter of bringing in a larger flock of MLAs to the assembly this time, again. There are strong feelings that the Sena tried to ensure that the BJP on its own did not get a majority in the state assembly this time; it acted as a Trogen Horse within, and worked for the defeat of several BJP candidates. Yet, the BJP came up with about double the size of the Sena’s strength in the 228-member assembly; 105 against 56. Still, Uddhav could not reconcile to the emerging scenario. Rather, he looked at likely scope for a political treachery and sought to ally with the BJP’s political rivals to form a government with himself being projected as the CM nominee.
Advisers like Sanjay Rout, a journalist-turned politician who takes care of the Sena mouthpiece and acts as the closest chum to Uddhav Thackeray, had no popular base, yet this did not prevent him from acting smart and leading Uddhav up the garden path. Now, the entire flock of the Sainiks could turn against both Uddhav and Rout. The result of their misadventure was political hara-kiri not just to themselves, but also to a political establishment veteran Bal Thackeray founded and nurtured to good shape when he was alive. Today, the entire Sena edifice is in a shambles.
There’s little doubt that the present government being formed by the BJP would complete its five-year term. The party has enough and more of manoeuvrability and its strength would keep increasing, given the proclivity of the political class to side with power. The Shiv Sena has no fig leaf left to hang on to. It squandered an opportunity the electorate gave it to run the governance hand-in-hand with the BJP. Notice the fact that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat stated a few days ago, in the context of the Maharashtra drama, that “greed is not a good thing.” He knew what was about to happen, finally, in Maharashtra.
All along the past five years, the Shiv Sena and its leadership enjoyed the fruits of power both in Maharashtra as also at the Central level alongside the BJP, and yet did not leave any opportunity ever to tease the BJP, its president Amit Shah and, why, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi despite his ever-growing stature. What came naturally to the Shiv Sena all along its existence in Mumbai and beyond was muscle-flexing and browbeating – which it started doing against the South Indians employed in the western metropolis since the 1970s, and then against Muslims, and later against the migrant labour from north Indian states like Bihar and UP. The Thackerays, whose ancestors came to Mumbai from Bihar to work in textile factories, were Biharis. Yet, the Thackerays saw an opportunity in donning the mantle of regional chauvinism and placed themselves as protectors of the Marathi-speaking people in Mumbai and beyond. And, all along, the Shiv Sena targeted the Gujarati population in Mumbai, who alongside Parsis built Bombay into a big city from the time of the British Raj with its large share of textile mills – a gift from the British in the post-Industrial Revolution era in Great Britain. It is an irony that today, the textile mills around which the Marathi population built their muscle have largely transplanted themselves to Ahmedabad and elsewhere in Gujarat, and the Gujarati moneybags bought back these land to build huge mansions, driving away the relatively poor Marathis to the suburbs.
The Shiv Sena, it must be noted, retarded the growth of Mumbai into a huge metropolis or megalopolis. Its leadership had no vision, yet threw its weight around. Shangahi in China, which was a small city, rose to great heights in recent decades, while Mumbai lost much of its old clout. The main-stay of Mumbai’s economy were, other than the textiles sector, the pharmaceuticals firms as also the banking system. The banking system today has its base in New Delhi – which grew by leaps and bounds in the past few decades – and the pharmaceuticals industry found new sanctuary in the more hospitable climate of Himachal Pradesh – away from the muscle-flexings of the Shiv Sena trade unions. And in Hyderabad, too. Mumbai is still a big city; but it lacks the necessary infra support, thanks to the play by a pigmy like the Shiv Sena. Note the fact that a natural instinct on the part of the Sena and Sharad Pawar, as was revealed a day ago, was to divet the funds meant for the bullet train project to the kitties of the big-time farmers, whose vested interests were protected and promoted for long years by the likes of Sharad Pawar.
Pawar at age 80 should have retired to oblivion, but politicians do not quit; they know there is too much to gain, or loot, from being in the power circuit, unlike the ordinary masses. Pawar spent hefty sums to win this round of assembly polls, and managed to get 54 seats as a result. Those who closely watched the election scene in western Maharashtra, Pawar’s turf, swear that it was a show of money power. But, many others were inclined to white-wash this win as the result of a “sympathy wave” for Pawar – who put up a show and walked in the rain to canvas votes for his party. It looks like, Pawar now lost both money and power. His daughter Supriya Sule does not have the political or personal strengths to keep the Pawar show going even in the family turf of western Maharashtra, or in and beyond Pune and Baramati. Here comes a more wily politician like Ajit Pawar, who would now take on both uncle Pawar and his daughter; with some lubrication from the BJP machinery there.
Sonia Gandhi would seem to have inflicted serious damage to the Congress establishment, supported largely by the minority Muslims, by going out of her way to support the idea of a government led by the Shiv Sena. It was all a secret understanding, and she is well within her limits to say now that she never attempted it. The image of the Congress party took a huge beating. It also was a fact that, had the Congress been able to be a part of a new power structure in Maharashtra, it would have been able to hit back the BJP with larger strength even at the national level. Clearly, Amit Shah and PM Modi was not so generous to grant such an opportunity to their rivals.
Devendra Fadnavis has returned as CM. Good if he manages to remain in the position for a full fiveyear. The good leader that he is, he has maintained scruples in public life. He is different from a Sharad Pawar or Uddhav Thackeray; both culturally and individually. He maintained decency as CM for a full term. Problem now is, he is getting into bad company – in the company of the likes of Ajit Pawar. If he and the BJP could suffer Uddhav Thackeray and the shenanigans of the Sena for five years, Ajit Pawar should be less of a worry, though.
At the same time, the black mark on Devandra Fadnavis is that he failed to bring the necessary numbers for the BJP in this assembly polls. It showed his lack of connect with the masses, and his failure to build an image for himself. Good performance is key to a sustained image-building. He is seen to have failed in this respect. He relied on the central BJP leadership to give him things on a platter. It remains to be seen whether he can be depended on to win another round of elections for the BJP in future. Unlikely.
Fadnavis and Nitin Gadkari are the two Brahmin faces for the BJP from the RSS stock. Both will have their strengths in future too, though PM Modi might be doing a strategic balancing act between Fadnavis and Gadkari. Modi’s relations with Fadnavis are excellent, it is said, though the reverse might be true of the PM’s ties with Gadkari. Gadkari had stitched a PM suit before the 2019 LS poll results were out. Then, he retreated. For Fadnavis, the backing he gets from PM Modi is over and above the support he gets from the RSS. Put together, this is highly potent. Hence, one guesses, he has nothing to worry for now.